The ability to hear and to interpret sound clearly and accurately is a source of great pleasure. The sounds of nature, music, the voices of friends and loved ones are all a part of the pleasure of living. Hearing is a principal tool for communicating with others, and if your hearing is normal you probably spend half your waking time just listening.

Hearing loss is one of the most common health problems in the United States. Unfortunately, more than 24 million Americans do not enjoy the full benefits of hearing in this world. Hearing difficulties are often unrecognized by the person involved. Children and teenagers seldom complain about the symptoms of hearing loss, and adults may lose their hearing so gradually that they do not realize it is happening.

The first step in treatment of a hearing problem after the medical evaluation is completed is an evaluation by an audiologist. An audiologist is the professional who specializes in evaluating and treating people with hearing loss. Audiologists have extensive training and skills to evaluate the hearing of adults, infants, and children of all ages. Audiologists conduct a wide variety of tests to determine the exact nature of an individual’s hearing problem. Audiologists present a variety of treatment options to patients with hearing impairment. Audiologists dispense and fit hearing aids, administer tests of balance to evaluate dizziness, and provide hearing rehabilitation training.

How We Hear

The Structure of the Ear

The outer ear channels sound waves from the air around you inward through the ear canal. The ear canal terminates at a tightly stretched membrane, the eardrum, which is vibrated by the incoming sound waves.

Beyond the eardrum, in the middle ear chamber, are three tiny, linked bones called the middle ear or ossicles. The outer bone, the malleus (hammer), is attached to the eardrum. The inner bone, the stapes (stirrup), ends in a footplate which fits into the oval window, an opening in the wall of the bone which houses the inner ear. The center bone, the incus (anvil) connects the malleus and the stapes so that when one moves they all move.

The vibrations of the eardrum cause the bones in the middle ear to move back and forth like tiny levers. This lever action converts the large motions of the eardrum into the shorter, more forceful motions of the stapes. The movement of the stapes sets up motions in the fluid that fills the inner ear causing the hair cells immersed in the fluid to move. This movement stimulates the attached nerve cell to send a tiny impulse along the fibers of the auditory nerve to the brain where it is translated into the sensation we know as sound.

Sensori-Neural or Nerve Type Hearing Loss

A sensori-neural or nerve type hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or the nerve of hearing which connects the inner ear with the brain. If the sound of words seems undiminished but you have trouble understanding what is being said, especially in a noisy environment, you may be suffering from a sensori-neural loss. You may be unable to hear high-pitched sounds such as the ticking of a watch, the dripping of a faucet, or the high notes of a violin. You may also hear a continuous “hissing” or “ringing” as a background to the real sounds in your environment. Words may have a rumbling, “fuzzy” quality, and you may think that people are mumbling or slurring their words.

Some of the more common causes of sensori-neural loss are:
* The aging process
* Exposure to high levels of noise
* Illnesses with high fever
* Drugs such as quinine, certain antibiotics, high dosages of aspirin, nicotine, alcohol.
* Childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, etc.
* Meniere’s disease (caused by increased amounts of fluid in the inner ear).
* Vascular problems.
* Head injuries.
* Tumors.
* Metabolic disorders.
* Viral diseases.
* Birth defects.

Sensori-neural hearing losses are rarely treatable through surgery or medication. In many cases the only effective solution is a hearing aid. The process to determine this is called a hearing aid evaluation which can be arranged through your doctor or audiologist.

With or without a hearing aid, persons of both types of hearing loss can often benefit from special instruction in lipreading and learning to concentrate on the desired message while ignoring other competing sounds.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when either the outer ear, the eardrum, the middle ear, or the middle ear bones become diseased or injured. Your first warning of a conductive loss may be a subdued quality in the sounds you hear. Familiar sounds will not seem as loud as they once were, and less intense sounds may not attract your attention at all. The quality of sound may be about the same, but the loudness or intensity will be reduced. There are several possible causes for this type of hearing loss:
* The outer part of the ear or ear canal may be incomplete or partially blocked by a growth of bone.
* An accumulation of wax may be blocking the ear canal, preventing sound from entering.
* An infection of the skin tissues which line the canal walls can cause itching, rawness, swelling, and closure of the external ear canal (external otitis).
* The mastoid bone marrow and tissue may be infected (otitis Media).
* The eardrum may be ruptured.
* The middle ear bones may be disrupted, destroyed or immobilized.

Many of these conductive situations can be corrected either through surgery or through medical treatment .It is important to seek medical care whenever you notice hearing loss, ear pain, drainage from the ear, or a feeling of stuffiness Left untreated, many types of conductive hearing losses can progress and so immediate attention should be given to their care.

Hearing Aids

The benefits received from hearing aids can differ significantly from person to person. Your success will largely depend on your motivation and willingness to work at improving your hearing. Most people need an adjustment period–usually lasting from a few days to a few weeks–to experiment with various sound levels and various types of background noise before their amplified hearing becomes second nature. It is also common for your instruments to require minor adjustments from the laboratory when they are new. Experience has shown that with proper counseling and practice, most hearing losses can be successfully fit with hearing aids.

Recent advances in micro-technology have greatly improved the performance of today’s hearing aids. New circuit options improve comfort and clarity in difficult listening situations and also allow the tailoring of instruments to match specific hearing needs.

Its no secret that today’s hearing instruments look great! What’s more impressive is that today’s models also sound, feel and perform better than ever. The three types of hearing aid technologies available today are analog, programmable, and digital. Your audiologist can advise you which of the many models and/or circuit options would be best for your hearing needs.